On February 23rd, 2022 Jon Anderson finalized the sale of Jonny Native Seed. Jon recounts some of his favorite memories as the founder and also shares his excitement for his next adventure.
It has been a joy being Jonny Native Seed. Thank you for your business over the years. I never imagined I would be harvesting so much seed, so many species, from so many varied places, for so many people and organizations. I have learned much. It has been a great gift that doing what I love has germinated into a viable business that has connected me to many people in various parts of the world. I am equally grateful that I and my harvesters have been able to "borrow" seeds from birds, mice and their kind (as well as from the wind) to put it to good use.
JNS seed gets into the hands of propagators and sowers who either grow plants from the seed or sow the seed directly. Many of the plants and seed are then transplanted from the "borrow" sites of abundance to places of scarcity. The seed, or the plants grown from the seed, are sown onto or planted into the ground, to restore or establish sites lacking such plants. The result is new habitats where critters and the environment can flourish. I feel we (JNS and those who grow the plants and sow the seed) are part of a team involved in something bigger than ourselves. I am glad that with Emily taking over ownership of JNS, this teamwork that is making a positive difference will carry on.
Speaking of a team, I have memories of harvesting seed with many different harvest helpers over the years. I want to make mention of some of them. At first I did all the harvesting myself. It didn't take long before I needed help. I had too many orders and too many places to harvest to be able to do it all. Help had a way of coming to me. Sometimes in uncanny, "meant to be", ways. Andrew and Liz Mow from the Bruderhof Communities unexpectedly spent much of the summer of 2011 living with us. (We knew some folks from the Bruderhof community from our time in Haiti.) Andrew and Liz helped harvest seed in one of those rare years when Mahonia nervosa (Cascade Oregon grape) had a bountiful crop.
Biseat Horning was with us as well for part of the same season. We first met her at an ETHOS stove conference. She is originally from Ethiopia. I still vividly recall the ugly incident that made me aware of latent racism in our country. We were alongside I-5 on the slopes of Mount Ashland. I was concealed behind a tree harvesting Calocedrus decurrens (incense cedar) and Biseat was more in the open, harvesting Ceanothus integerrimus (deer brush). A couple guys pulled off the freeway and yelled the N word at her. They drove off when I started down the hillside towards them. Countering the disgusting memory, I remember a time Biseat was changing stations on the radio, she found a country station just as the phrase "Put a little more gravel in my travel" was being sung. It became our motto for freedom and discovery. I have traveled a lot of gravel roads in the quest of seed.
James Gerber and I collected lots of seed together. I never saw what his bedroom looked like but I expect it is immaculate. No other collector of mine ever harvested such clean buckets of Amelanchier alnifolia (western serviceberry) and Rubus parviflorus (thimbleberry). I'm sure he still remembers almost stepping on a little newborn fawn along Dixon Creek. His sweet sister, Rachel, is a gem. Long drives to and from the Portland area to harvest Tellima grandiflora (fringecup) passed quickly with her in the passenger seat. She asks great questions and tapped into lots of stories. The Gerber's tall neighbor Ian Cornwell was my silent harvester. On similar long trips to harvest Hydrophyllum tenuipes (Pacific waterleaf) there was silence in the car unless I was asking him questions. No one got as many wasp stings as Ian and no one else ever got bit by a snake. (Thankfully not a poisonous one.)
I met Sarah Felts when she heard me crashing in the brush off the side of a trail harvesting Oemleria cerasiformis (Indian plum or osoberry). She waited for me to come out to the trail. When she heard I was a seed collector she exclaimed, "I knew there were people like you!" Sarah had harvested seed at Mount Lassen Volcanic National Park for a number of seasons. She ended up harvesting part-time one season for me. While coming back from harvesting Frangula purshiana (cascara) we sang each other songs we had each written. Sarah lives in Virginia now and works at a native plant nursery.
Ellen Hoover and I encountered each other looking for acorns in a cemetery in Ashland, Oregon. I was looking for Quercus garryana (white oak) and she was there looking for Quercus kelloggii (black oak). After figuring out we were both among the tombstones looking for the same thing (she, to eat them and me for them to be grown into plants) we talked longer. One of her sisters is a JNS customer, owning Cornflower Farms in Elk Grove, California. Ellen collected seed for me for a few seasons. We were up on Mount Ashland scouting for patches of Aquilegia formosa (red columbine) for her to harvest when they matured. Ellen had me eat the blossom of a just-about-to-open flower bud of Lilium pardalinum ssp. vollmeri (Vollmer's lily). They are tasty and a bit spicy. Who knew?
Alex Slakie came to a workshop at the Grange Hall in Corbett, OR where I had been asked to do a presentation on seed collection and cleaning of native seed. What a great help he has been ever since. If you ordered Symphoricarpos albus (common snowberry), Rubus spectabilis (salmonberry) or Vancouveria hexandra (inside-out flower) from me this year a good amount of it was likely harvested and cleaned by him. I think Alex would say I have also been a great help to him. Collaboration. Emily Wittkop, who will take over JNS, has met Alex and will continue to collaborate with him.
Most of my seed sales are to wholesale customers but not all. About this time two years ago a local homeowner, Alex Krejci, called to ask about ordering Lonicera ciliosa (trumpet honeysuckle) and Lonicera hispidula (hairy honeysuckle) seed for planting along a fence in his backyard. Long story short, Alex went with me while I harvested Alnus rubra (red alder) I needed for an order. He literally got his feet wet collecting a bit of Carex obnupta (slough sedge) to see what seed collecting was like. We stayed in touch and at the start of the collecting season Alex tried to set up a younger brother of his to harvest seed for me. Alex ended up being the collector instead. He and Skyla Baker-Swartzendruber (a high school student who became a seed collector due to her dad and I doing outreach to homeless folks together) ended up wearing out multiple pairs of gloves bagging up mountains of Carex obnupta. Alex moved to the Seattle area and continues to harvest seed. Skyla will be back to harvest this summer for her third year of collecting.
This past summer Ash Crissman, Martin Vise and I spent a day collecting Rubus ursinus (dewberry) for an order from Laura at Jackson Bottom Wetlands. (You can see some photos of Ash, Skyla and other collectors in action this past season with this link.) On the way home Martin was in the passenger seat. He pointed out the farm where he used to live along I-5 near Woodburn. It became story time. As we drove by fields of sweet corn and hazelnut orchards I told a story of our youngest grandson, Lucian, who is now 7. Lucian has spent week-long stays with us every summer since he was a toddler.
Hanging on the wall in the bedroom where Lucian sleeps there is a Ron DiCianni print of Simeon holding baby Jesus. The print is based on a story in the Bible. One night when Lucian was three or four, Flip was with Lucian at bedtime and he asked about the picture. She explained it was from a story about a man named Simeon holding Jesus when he was a baby.
Jesus's parents had taken him to the temple to be dedicated to God. As they entered the temple an old man named Simeon recognized who Jesus was and asked to hold him. Simeon began to speak blessings over Jesus. Lucian looked at Flip and asked, "Grandma, you mean like what happened to me?" Flip was surprised at Lucian's question and said, "You mean when Uncle Jerry held you and prayed for you when you were a baby?" Lucian replied, "Yes." Flip asked if he remembered that. He said he did.
Lucian spent his first 10 days of life in the NeoNatal Intensive Care Unit. For his first few months Lucian was a super fussy infant who was often difficult to calm down. When Lucian was less than two months old my mother's brother came for a visit. Uncle Jerry has a reputation as someone who loves to pray for people. When our daughter came for a visit to see Uncle Jerry, she asked him to hold Lucian and pray for him. Lucian did not immediately change from being a fussy baby but within a few weeks he did become much calmer and relaxed. It is hard to say how much that change was a result of Uncle Jerry's prayer rather than Lucian's father's dedicated attentiveness to him but the change was quite noticeable. Lucian became a delight to be around. He still is.
When we saw our daughter at the end of Lucian's stay with us we told her how Lucian had asked about the Simeon picture and said, "You mean like what happened to me?" Rose was stunned. She said they had never told Lucian about him being prayed for. How did Lucian remember being prayed for by a great, great uncle who he had only seen once when he was less than 2 months old? It's a mystery to us all.
When we next saw Uncle Jerry we told him the story. He told us about being at a conference and having somebody he didn't know walk up to him and say, "You have the anointing of Simeon all over you!" I told Martin and Ash, "There is more to this life than we are aware of." Martin then told an amazing story about his daughter and her first words. Ash, who was pregnant, listened to the stories and pondered them. The bounty of buckets of berries in the rear of the car were just an incidental part of our day.
These are a few of the stories of some of the JNS seed collectors. Thanks for taking the time to read them. I am very appreciative for their harvest help. Tyler Simmer and Kate Gonda became JNS collectors right near the end of the 2021 collecting season. They were an incredible team harvesting pickup loads of Eleocharis palustris (common spikerush) straw to extract the tiny seed from for an order from Jelitto Perennial Seed. I heard some stories from them but it will be Emily who will get to know them better and hear more of their stories.
It isn't just JNS seed harvesters who I have met while out looking for seed. In June of 2018 I was harvesting Sisyrinchium bellum (blue-eyed grass) seed for BeaverLake Nursery along a gravel road in the Illinois River area of southern Oregon. A guy perhaps a little younger than me stopped to ask if I, like he, was taking photos of plants. I held my cards close for a while. He said he was looking for flowering Lilium bolanderi (Bolander's lily) and someone had just told him where he might see some. We drove up the road a bit and did find a couple stalks blooming up a creek drainage. Mark Lundgren is the name of the photographer. Mark and I haven't seen each other since that day but we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and talk or text each other regularly. Mark has become a good seed scout for me and I have been able to give him directions on where and when to find some of the flowering plants he tries to track down for photos. Here is a link to some of his excellent flower, bird and butterfly photos.
Charles LeFevre of New World Truffieres is one of my volunteer scouts and occasional collectors. I have hopes that once I am back from the PCT I can sometimes go exploring with him on his weekly training walks in the woods with his truffle sniffing dogs. Whenever we're together we both seem to learn much from each other.
Thatcher Loen of Loen Nursery occasionally calls me to pick my brain about seed. I always appreciate and enjoy his calls. He's told me he thinks I probably have one of the best jobs possible. I have to admit there are times I would agree with Thatcher. I have been very blessed to be a wild seed harvester. I first met Thatcher in the early 1990's when Flip and I were just getting going with SevenOaks Native Nursery. He warned me to be careful because selling plants can become addictive. What he said about selling plants turns out to also be true of seeds. One of the reasons Jonny Native Seed got so consuming of my time was not being able to say no to customers looking for seed or no to plants loaded with seed.
Flip, my seed widow wife, deserves special recognition for her grace towards me and my seed addiction and workaholic ways. I had resisted hiring a seed cleaner because I knew I was so overwhelmed with all there was to do I would never be able to properly tend to the paperwork required to have paid employees. (My collectors have been paid as private contractors.) Flip could see I was sinking under the load and graciously offered to take care of the paperwork if I hired a seed cleaner.
In earlier updates I have expressed how much I have appreciated Jennifer Mast and her assistance trying to keep up with all the unprocessed seed I and other collectors bring in. There is a photo of Jennifer using the Dybvig seed cleaner with this link. There are links to videos of me using the seed cleaner on the Dybvig website.
Flip and I are so excited about our upcoming PCT hike. Her well fitting trail name is Wonder. You would laugh to see us old folks testing our gear to make sure it will keep us warm enough for the cold nights we will surely encounter along the trail. We crawled into our tent at about 11 pm for our first cold night test. That is well more than an hour past our normal bedtime. We hadn't gotten a nap that day so we should have fallen right to sleep. At 1:10 am we started talking to each other. We found out we were both cold and neither of us felt like we had slept a wink. We left the tent and went to our bed. The second and third tries went better but were not what we would call successful (or warm). We ordered some new gear and are now much more prepared. Later this year it will be 50 years ago that Flip and I met along a trail. The thought of us walking along trails together for 5 1/2 months or so makes us smile. Here is a link to a practice album for how we expect to communicate from the PCT.
I have a T-shirt with the printed words, "I was made for this." I got the shirt from the church we attend. (Kings Circle Church has a welcoming and easy to navigate online presence if you are curious to check it out.) The words on the shirt refer to a sermon series from last year. I think wearing the "I was made for this" shirt will be perfect attire while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The phrase also suits how much I love seed collecting. I have such a connection to seed collecting I don't expect this farewell means an end to me collecting seed. Both Emily and I are expecting that I will end up being a member of her team of seed collectors once I am back from hiking the PCT.
Emily doesn't have family connections in southern California like I do so she won't find herself in that region nearly as often as I get there. About 100 of the seed species on the JNS availability list have been from collections I made in southern California during my visits to and from the family date farm. In order to be able to continue providing seed from that area to those who need it I am starting a new native seed business. It will carry a limited amount of seed species. My new seed company will not be selling the species sold by JNS. Anyone who contacts me with collection requests for seed from the JNS collection region will have their requests forwarded to Emily.
The name of my new business is Agua Alta Seed (N). It remains to be seen whether there will eventually be a website for AAS(N). The N stands for native seed. I am leaving native out of the name to be able to have the initials for the new business be AAS. Any of you who have taken the time to look at the photo albums I have shared for my desert mountain hikes will probably recognize that AAS signifies Agua Alta Spring. It is a heart place for me. If you never took the time to look at the albums and have any interest here is a link to the most recent hike. We will be doing another hike out to AAS with a large group of Cahuillas just days before we start out on the PCT
I will most likely continue to write occasional "updates." Some of you have requested being put on a list to receive stories from the PCT hike and whatever I do after that. The email address for Agua Alta Seed (N) is AguaAltaSeed@gmail.com If you want to be on the list for receiving my future updates or for seeing what seed will be available through AAS write to me at AguaAltaSeed@gmail.com I hope to stay connected with you.
My part of this joint email is nearing an end. I do want to make a quick mention about spreadsheets for keeping track of seed collection information. Several years ago I wrote that I would share how I store information but I never did. Last year I did send an email with some examples of my collecting record keeping to some of my seed collectors. If you would like to see what has worked for me for record keeping send an email to me at the AAS email address and I will get back to you. I won't be sharing where I collected but how I kept track of where, when, how much etc. I collected.
A question people have often asked me when they find out I am a seed collector with nearly 600 species of seed on my list is, "Do you have any favorite seeds?" There are not any specific ones that come to mind quickly. I have been fascinated by all the shapes, sizes, colors, seed pods, methods of dispersal, etc. associated with seeds. Asclepias speciosa (showy milkweed) and Calycanthus occidentalis (spice bush) may be my favorite seed pods.
As for favorite places to collect, I do have some. I can tell you that alongside busy highways is not where they are but a seed collector goes where the seed is available. Sometimes the seeds are next to a gurgling stream but plenty of harvest sites are too exposed and too noisy to be really enjoyable. Thankfully there are some special spots with enough seed to gather that they have become friends of mine that I visit annually.
I mentioned at the beginning of this long farewell that many of my collectors and I met in seemingly random encounters. I first met Emily a number of years ago when she was first hired for her seed position at the Institute for Applied Ecology. Rob Fiegener, her boss at the time, brought her to the JNS seed cleaning barn to introduce us. Rob had participated in a seed cleaning workshop I hosted in the barn the previous summer. Just as COVID-19 shut everything down in March of 2020 Emily and a friend of hers came out to talk to me. They'd heard a rumor from someone who was corresponding with Sarah Felts in Virginia that I was looking for a person to take over JNS so I could hike the PCT.
At that time I wasn't really ready to hike the PCT and due to the pandemic's clouding the vision of what might lay ahead in the future, Emily and Leanna pursued other career opportunities. Rob and I communicated sometime after I sent out the JNS update at the end of March, 2021 announcing I was looking for someone to take over JNS. Rob asked if Emily had expressed interest; he thought she would be a good fit. Soon after, Emily contacted me. We met weekly for a period of time and came to an understanding of how to make this happen. The more we met the more she knew taking over Jonny Native Seed was something she wanted to do and the more focused I became doing what was necessary to have things ready to hand it over to her at this time. When she was available on her days off from IAE Emily helped with harvesting and cleaning. She has also sat in front of the computer typing in orders and helping get orders ready to ship. Now here we are. I am ready to pass on the bags, buckets and picking poles to Emily. She is ready to put on the harvesting harness.
It will be a different situation for Emily taking over Jonny Native Seed than it was for me 15 years ago wondering if I could sell enough seed to make it into a viable business. When I started JNS in 2006 Flip and I had just sold Sevenoaks Native Nursery. We had income coming in from the sale of that business when I started collecting seed. I could afford for JNS to just be a hobby or experimental trial for a while. It turned out there was a bigger niche for wild collected native seed than I could have ever imagined.
When we sold 7Oaks to Mike and Scott they took ownership right at the time of the bareroot plant harvest so they had immediate cash flow. Selling JNS to Emily is a different story. She hasn't just sold a business that will help fund her. To the contrary, she recently quit her IAE job. It will not be until the fall of this year that she starts to receive any significant income from seed sales. While waiting to sell the harvest she will have the expenses of seed collecting and cleaning all summer. I very seldom asked any customers for deposits on their orders. I told Emily I would broach the subject of deposits in this email. I know many of you depend on JNS to supply you with some of the seed you need to be successful with your businesses. Will any of you be able and willing to make deposits to Emily for your long range seed orders for the fall of 2022? Talk it over with her.
It is time for Emily to introduce herself. I know she is excited and I believe she will do well. Rob has full confidence she is a perfect fit. That is why he encouraged her to go for this opportunity. I will close with a paraphrased version of the MLK quote I learned from my Cahuilla friend. I think it is appropriate for both myself and for Emily. They are good words for all of us at the beginning of a New Year.
"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole trail."
Thanks for the lovely introduction Jon, and hello to all of you. I cannot fully express the gratitude and excitement I have for this opportunity. When I started working as a native seed collector five years ago, I had no idea how it would impact my life and the direction it would take me. I’ve always loved working with seed and spent several years volunteering for a local public domain seed breeding company Peace Seedlings before my employment with the Institute for Applied Ecology. In addition to leading the seed collection efforts at IAE, I managed the greenhouse production of various native plants including threatened and endangered species, and assisted with the management of the seed production farm. I am very passionate about plant materials and recognize that the limiting factor is availability. To have the opportunity to continue this work and expand upon my current experience as a business owner, is a very exciting endeavor that I am very much looking forward to.
As Jon mentioned, I met him years ago when I visited his seed cleaning barn with Rob Fiegener. At that time, my only exposure to professional seed cleaning was through the use of large industrial seed cleaning equipment. When Jon gave us the tour, I walked away inspired and impressed with his innovative tenacity to make improvements on home appliances and the use of the Dybvig seed cleaner. I told others about his technique and knowledge base for years following. I would like to take this opportunity to express my immense appreciation for Rob Fiegener and his guidance over the years. He was an amazing supervisor, mentor, friend, and believed in me when I needed it most.
I am so grateful for the time I have spent with Jon this last year and my only regret is wishing I had more time to learn from him. He continues to build incredible businesses that massively impact the native plant industry, and it is an honor to be continuing his legacy. In addition to providing high quality native seed, my hope is that I can continue to grow this business and foster seed stewardship in the next generation. If you're interested in learning more about seed collection, the recent webinar titled "Seed Collection and Climate Change" touches on the importance of seed collectors and what to consider as we move into the future. Here is a link to the recording in case you missed it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRX-QNk9QRASince there will be a lot of new information to me, I would greatly appreciate a small introduction from each of you or maybe a quick note to say hello. I would love to know your relationship to JNS and your native plant focus. It's important to me that I continue the outstanding customer relations that Jon has built over the years and I look forward to getting to know you all over time.
As per the tradition: The current availability seed list is attached. Penstemon centranthifolius (scarlet bugler) was recently added and may be of interest to some of you. It can be found in the Herbaceous plants/ Forbs section. I am beginning to compile a list of species to collect for the 2022 season. It is early, but not too early to let me know what you'd like for this year. Be sure to use the new JNS email address: JonnyNativeSeed@gmail.com and please reach out if you have any inquiries/ questions/ comments, etc. If you want write to Jon, use his new email address: AguaAltaSeed@gmail.com
Congratulations to Jon and Flip and this next adventure. I look forward to collecting seed together when you return.